A letter to Ellen: January 7, 2007

by Mr. Sheehy

Since we just completed the holiday stretch, I have much I will want to remember about this past month. You almost pulled over the Christmas tree when the gold beads you were yanking off it caught on a branch; I tried to catch the tree, disentangle the beads, and continue filming your activity all at once. You’ve taken to “running round the mountain” in your underwear and pajama tops right before bed and have even insisted that Mommy sing the song as you go. You dance like a maniac to the toy radio Grandma got Annie for Christmas, inventing moves a ballerina wouldn’t dare to try. You have taken to quoting literature at key moments – in particular, Green Eggs and Ham (or, as you call it, Sam I Am). You didn’t want to eat or get into your high chair, and in the midst of a massive fit, as we attempted to wiggle your legs into the slots, you screamed, “I don’t want to eat that. I don’t like it. I don’t want to eat it anywhere!” At other times in frustration you have shouted at one parent or the other, “You let me be!”  It’s hard not to give you your way, no matter how irrational, if you’re alluding to literature.

Obviously your personality has become more powerful, and one battle your Mom and I are fighting is with taking pictures. For some reason you have suddenly decided that you no longer want to be cute for pictures. It took us two weeks and a half a bag of M&Ms to get one good Christmas picture out of you. The M&Ms were in a small “moon glass” on the end table and you would pull out a few after letting us take a couple pictures. “Ellen should have two M&Ns” you’d declare after preparing for a shot but before we’d have a chance to click the shutter. The most fun of that M&M session may have been watching you suggest each time that you should have “two M&Ns” this time, even though we’d affirm one without hesitation.

This manner of asking has become a regularly amusing pattern as well. You’ve noticed that we sometimes use something you like as a bit of a reward. If you want to eat bread, we’ll say you need to finish your broccoli, and then you can have another piece of bread. It’s a deal you can handle, so you’ll suggest as we give you a snack, “Ellen finish this fruit and then you can have a gumdrop!” when we have said nothing of the sort. But you’ll give it a shot anyway.

Developmentally, I should recall this stage as the time your imagination began to rule. Tonight we sat down at a picnic table you made out of a pillow and ate with a bracelet, a white piece of cotton, and a small gossamer baggie that were each spoons. And yet for Christmas you received a set of plates and pots complete with spoons, forks, and knives. But they weren’t handy, so we pretended according to your whim.

Another Christmas present of note came from Grammy P. – it is a puppet you have named Danica (“Mrs. A–, yep”) – and when I first put it on I compulsively gave it the personality of a lunatic cheerleader in kindergarten. Somehow the personality type seemed appropriate for the wild, yarn pigtails the puppet sports. I realized my mistake moments later, however, because you LOVED it and wanted the puppet to join you in every activity of your day. So I follow you around speaking in a falsetto, hoping my throat will make it through the afternoon (forget through your childhood – I’ve already conceded the likelihood of permanent damage before you hit high school). In one more amusing episode, you had been leading the puppet on a tour of the house, showing her everything you had, but only staying in each spot for about 15 seconds. We had just finished about 13 seconds of tea with your new tea set, and I gave up. I exasperatedly collapsed on the floor and closed my eyes, desperate for a break and some sleep. “Daddy should not sleep,” you declared. “You sleep in your bed.” I resisted the reminder, however, and kept my eyes closed. Unconvinced, you turned to the puppet for support, and soon you and the puppet were talking with one another and both trying to wake me up. You know I control the puppet. When it is inactive for too long, you remind me to make it talk (I don’t hide my lips, I just talk higher than normal when the puppet is talking); when you want to play with it, you ask me to put my hand in it. But here you were, suspending your disbelief and talking actively to this puppet about your sleeping father, who must have been sleeping, because his eyes were closed, even though technically his mouth was moving and his hand was going wild.  

All this is important, but primarily I want to remember this month as when you discovered fairy tales. For some reason during a random moment I pulled from the shelf a book I’d purchased at the used book store. It is a picture book of Grim’s Fairy Tales, and I bought it mostly as a reference for your mother and me, so we could read through it and remember the tales in order to retell them to you. I figured you might enjoy it someday, but I didn’t see you getting interested now, because the book is lined with text and has relatively few pictures – it’s no Dr. Suess for youngest use. When I pulled that thing out, however, you insisted that we read it, and before long, we were retelling Little Red Riding Hood and Snow White four or five times a day. Most notable might be the puppet show we put together, staring Danica the crazy puppet as Little Red Riding Hood and the Lion as the Wolf. (Other shows have taxed our casts – in one rendition of Snow White, we had to have a toy umbrella step in as one of the seven dwarves.) We set up a stage out of your toy tubs, and you had the book open next to you as I carried the various stuffed animals through the plot. Near the finish my throat hurt so badly I could barely say three lines without coughing, and when I insisted we stop (I explained why), you kissed me on the throat to make it feel better. It worked, and I willingly dragged you around in the laundry basket “train” for a half hour as compensation.

Telling stories leads inevitably to the moments I don’t want to let go. Two nights ago we were hiding in the bathroom trying to keep quiet as Annie fell asleep in the living room, and we began passing the time with stories. Obviously, it began with you on the toilet, but when you finished we stayed in there, and ultimately I was lying down with my head against the door and you were lying on my belly, legs extended like mine, as we retold the Three Little Pigs, Goldilocks and the Three Bears, Snow White, and Little Red Riding Hood. You’ve memorized all these tales, and you say the lines for me when I cue you: “What did the wolf say?” 

“Little Pig let me on my chinny chin chinny!”

In the middle of the tales, we stopped and thought of songs to sing, quickly moving through “Daisy Daisy,” “You Are My Sunshine,” “Inch by Inch,” “Be Thou My Vision,” “Praise Ye the Lord,” “The Wise Man Built His House,” and “Deep and Wide.” I realize that anything we do is precious to me since you’re two and I’m your dad; but if we had been sitting on the sofa watching the Grinch again (we watched it seven nights in a row leading to Christmas), it wouldn’t have been nearly so edifying and beneficial for either of us. What we have been doing lately: igniting your imagination, engaging mine, and exchanging tales and songs, builds lasting joy in both of us – I’m convinced of it.